I texted my friend Susie yesterday to tell her that I had her son's shoes from the day before.

When she stopped by to pick up my eight year old to play at her house, I held out the shoes, but she made no move to take them.

"They're not his shoes," she said, staring at them suspiciously.

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"They have to be," I said. I looked at them, and they still looked unfamiliar. I turned them around as if the other side would change her mind. That's why criminals in lineups turn in all directions. Some sides look different than others.

"They're not his, Mary," she said.

"Mom," my youngest said in the superior tone he's adopted lately, "those are my old shoes. You know, the shoes I had before these?" He pointed at his new ones.

Yes, thank you, son. I know what "old" means, I'm not senile. I only thought this to myself because I try to behave around company.

This is not the first time unfamiliar garments have taken up at residence in our house. Just recently I found a hoodie lying on our foyer floor. It was unfamiliar, blue and grey striped. The tag said Old Navy.

I approached the boys, holding out the hoodie.

"Where did this come from?" I asked. "Is it Jack's? Nick's? Maybe it's Nick's? Or maybe Nick's?" (They have a lot of friends named Nick...)

"It's mine Mom," said John, without taking his eyes off his homework.

Suspicion reared its head. John will find any excuse to take his eyes off his homework. One time last year I noticed that he was not doing his homework, and I went to investigate. He was on my Mac.

"What are you doing on the computer?" I asked. "You have homework."

He looked at me solemnly and said,

"I'm researching the field of philanthropy. I want to be a philanthropist when I grow up."

Sure enough he was on Google researching the phrase "doing good deeds."

I explained that the definition of philanthropy is "the field in which you give away your money and belongings because you have so much of both, you couldn't possibly spend it in eight lifetimes." For you to get to that point, I said, you have to do your geometry homework.

So when he didn't look up, I called him on it.

"It's not yours. It's from Old Navy. I stopped shopping at Old Navy when you guys were babies. I haven't been to Old Navy in years," I said.

"No, it's mine. We got it at the surf shop." He continued to pretend to do his homework.

Ah-hah! Mistake number two. A surf shop doesn't carry Old Navy. His lack of fashion consumer knowledge was putting him at a severe disadvantage.

He still maintains that it's his. But I have another theory, and it's a theory that has been proven accurate before.

Your Honor, I maintain that in response to a request I made for him to check the school lost and found for an item he lost at the end of last year, he spotted the hoodie. He saw it, coveted it, and had to have it. He grabbed it, and with no remorse, answered, "Yes, thank you," in response to the secretary's query as to whether he found what he was looking for.

The boys have always thought of the school Lost and Found as their own personal shopping cart. When I yell at them for losing their stuff and tell them to check the box, they comply. They come home triumphantly with the items, yelling, "Mom, we found our stuff! You were right, it was in there!"

But the stuff has morphed.

V-neck Under Armours have morphed into crew necks.

Sweatshirts grow hoods, and jeans change size.

Black Quiksilver ski gloves become brown leather.

And back they all go to the Lost and Found.

I buy the boys nice things, and I ask them to take care of them. Dustin recently lost a pair of Sanuk shoes. He had them eight hours before he lost them. Where, we don't know. Somehow it is my fault. Still can't figure that out.

They like their stuff. But appreciating their stuff and making sure the stuff is safe in a locker or a bag are two very different things. Here are some scenarios:

Boy thinking: "I better put my hoodie in my bag so I don't lose it. Mom would be so mad, and this hoodie is expensive."

That's appreciating and being careful.

"I wonder where my hoodie is? Oh well, it's probably in the locker room. I'll find it tomorrow. Or maybe I won't. Mom will buy me a new one. It's a shame it's gone, I really liked that hoodie."

That's appreciating but not being careful.

"Shoot, where is that stupid hoodie? I hate that it's not directly attached to my head, it would make it so much easier to keep track of! I hate that stupid hoodie, I'm glad it's gone!"

That's not appreciating and not being careful.

Appreciating and being careful. That's our goal.

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